The chairman of Horsham Football Club has said the club would not be ‘railroaded’ into making a decision over a new ground.
Kevin Borrett was speaking in response to a County Times interview with the Horsham District Council cabinet member responsible for planning Claire Vickers.
He said she had ‘lost the plot’ trying to defend the council’s development control committee decision to refuse permission for a new clubhouse and pitches at Hop Oast.
Mrs Vickers said the HDC director of planning, economic development and property Chris Lyons was liaising with the club over a more suitable site.
She ruled out the Hop Oast site, which also lies in her ward, saying it was in an ‘inappropriate location in the strategic gap’ and that the clubhouse was ‘far too large and introduced a business in the countryside’.
However Mr Borrett believed she had ‘undermined the professional integrity’ of planning officers. The club has seen support for them surge since the decision last month.
He said: “I am disappointed that such a senior HDC politician should make such a crude attempt to intimidate the club to dissuade us from appealing. The club will make its own decision and not be railroaded.
“Cllr Claire Vickers truly appears to have has lost the plot here. It is a really quite insulting to expect the electorate to accept that it is perfectly acceptable to build countless houses in the surrounding countryside, but then to refuse this sports facility adjacent to the by-pass, a petrol station, opposite a park and ride, council depot and recycling tip, using the pretence that members are somehow being seen as ‘protecting the countryside from unsuitable development’.
“Equally as insulting is the use of the widely discredited pretence of Strategic Gap policies, Strategic Gaps which everyone knows do not apply to her when it suits her – one only needs to look at North Horsham.
“I trust she also realises that by leading the call for refusal she has blatantly undermined in public the professional integrity of the very planning officers she is supposed to be in charge of – the same officers who recommended the application for permission.”
The committee held a special debate about the football club’s plans on January 20 when fans packed into the council chamber and an overspill room in The Capitol next door to hear the decision.
In a heated debate, councillors expressed both support and opposition to the plans for stands, two pitches and a two storey clubhouse on land in Worthing Road.
Members voted 13 in favour, nine against and there was one abstention. Three members of the development control committee were absent.
The club is yet to receive the official notification of refusal - an issue they have taken to chief executive Tom Crowley. Once they have it, the directors and planning consultants will review their plans and decide whether to appeal the council’s decision.
Mr Borrett believed that was a move the council has forced.
He said: “Furthermore, should we appeal, we have the ridiculous situation where council tax payers will now have to foot the bill for HDC to defend a rejection of a planning application where its own officers had recommended acceptance.
“Why employ highly qualified experts only to then override their professional judgement and undermine their professional integrity for no credible reason?
“To my mind it shows how councillors can be misguidedly influenced by a vocal minority on vital issues such as this, especially this close to the elections in a callous attempt to garner a few votes.”
The club has received hundreds of expressions of support in the three weeks since the planning committee met.
The club’s #homeforhorsham petition has attracted more than 600 signatures sine the meeting taking the total past 2,500.
Many have accused the council of trying to rid Horsham of sporting clubs altogether.
Mr Borrett said: “It might be football facilities being opposed this time, but who is to say that in future other community sports organisations won’t also get the same cold shoulder treatment in the future?
“We are already in the process of getting in touch with other community sports organisations across the district to see how we can form a sporting alliance and together prevent Horsham from becoming a ‘sport free zone’.
Sport: Page 104